Friday, March 9, 2001


Cougars give dog best care
WSU surgeons correct puppy's birth defects

Hannelore Sudermann
Staff writer

Kevin German - The Spokesman-Review
Anne Currah, a third-year veterinary graduate student at WSU, gives Chelsea a kiss after taking her out for some exercise earlier this week.

Chelsea is one lucky dog.

Though born with severe skeletal defects, the 5-month-old springer spaniel with warm brown eyes and chocolate-colored ears is getting the best of care at Washington State University's Veterinary Medical Center.

"Most dogs like this would never get out of the litter basket," said Charlie Powell, spokesman for the vet medical center.

Chelsea's biggest problems are her front legs. The bones and joints have improperly formed, affecting her ability to walk. It could leave her immobile if left untreated.

"She had to walk at a run because she had to throw forward both legs," said Anne Currah, the third-year veterinary student caring for Chelsea. "But because her joints didn't work, she did a lot of nose dives into the ground. It was tiring to watch her."

Often breeders or pet owners who notice problems in a puppy will kill it rather than seek help, said Powell. At issue is both the cost of treatment and emba
rrassment at breeding a dog with birth defects.

"Without surgery, her future could be grim," said Anthony Cambridge, the WSU veterinary surgeon who took on Chelsea's case. "We're doing this because the most important thing for her is comfort and good health."

The corrective surgeries, which started this week, and care will likely cost more than $2,000. Money from the Spokane Humane Society's compassion fund and the university's good Samaritan fund will cover most of the costs. But they're already running short of money.

Chelsea was the last of a litter of spaniels. Recognizing she had problems, the owners gave her away to a woman who tried caring for the pup.

"She got it home and realized the problems weren't anything she could cope with," said Diane Rasmussen, who does education and outreach for the Spokane Humane Society.

The woman brought the dog into the agency at the end of December. The humane society decided that because Chelsea was so personable, she would make a great family pet once her medical problems were addressed.

"We had no way of knowing how many problems she had or really how severe they were," Rasmussen said.

Though the skeletal defects sound like bad luck, it's good luck for Chelsea that they're so rare.

"The dog's deformities are so uncommon, they represent an enormous potential for teaching," said Powell, explaining that the teaching interest and the desire to help Chelsea are why Cambridge agreed to take on the case.

The professor doesn't know if Chelsea's problems are genetic or a coincidence of nature, but advises if there were other puppies in the litter or in previous litters with the same problems, the owners should review their breeding practices.

Early this week, Chelsea spent three hours in surgery to correct the joint problems in her left leg and fuse the two bones at her knee.

"We didn't really appreciate the damage until we got into surgery," Cambridge said.

Depending on the speed of her recovery, the surgeon may go to work on her other leg in the next week or so.

In a few more weeks, Chelsea's medical work and recovery will be complete. Then the Spokane Humane Society will try to find her a new home. It's possible she may need further medical care, but nothing as extensive as this, Cambridge said.

A day after surgery, the puppy patient was up and moving around.

Groggy and sporting a green cast on her left foreleg, Chelsea never barked during her time out of the kennel, but frequently sighed as Currah stroked her soft head.

She made three hops, her ears flopping and her immobilized leg dragging under her. As Currah offered some praise, the puppy nibbled a piece of padding out of the top of her cast and plopped down on the grass.

"As she gets more used to it, she'll just be running around like nothing's wrong," Currah said, admitting she'll miss Chelsea at the end of her treatment. "She'll never be a hunting dog, but she is going to be such a good puppy for someone."

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